By John Paolo Bencito
Agrarian reform and rural development play an essential role in “promoting sustainable development, which includes the realization of human rights, food security, poverty eradication and the strengthening of social justice, on the basis of the democratic rule of law.”[Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), 2003.]
As the clock ticks near for the deadline of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) on June 30, 2014 – much promise has already been given.
As of February 2014 – based on DAR’s own figures, 790,671 hectares of land are yet to be awarded to farmers in the form of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs), the document that gives farmer-beneficiaries ownership of the land.
More than 206,000 hectares are still not under Notices of Coverage (NOC), the document that catalyzes the process of distribution for that parcel of land.
The snail-paced government action since CARPER was passed inherited CARP’s biggest mishaps – continued resistance from clans with big landholdings, lack of commitment from the national government to provide resources and myriad inefficiencies in lead implementing agencies.
While the promise of land reform has already been given, lack of political will can make such into nightmares.
The DAR’s weak implementation has allowed land grabbers to get away with illegal conversion of irrigated, agricultural land to other uses such as commercial and residential.
Many cases of land grabbing have been reported from all over the country, displacing farmers by bulldozers and demolitions to make way for development projects like subdivisions, resorts, and malls.
Under the CARPER law, it is illegal to convert all irrigated or irrigable agricultural land. Those who wish to do so have to appeal to DAR to exempt the land from agrarian reform coverage.
Loopholes on the law also became disadvantageous to the common farmer as the CARP “allows multinational corporations to maintain their control and operation of vast tracts of agricultural lands through lease, management, grower or service contracts for a period of 25 years and renewable for another 25 years”.
This provision allowed in the past transnational corporations such as Dole and Del Monte to control 220,000 hectares of agricultural lands devoted for export crops.
Also, Sec. 5 states that landowners shall issue the so-called “attestation of landowners” which will certify whether a person is a farm worker or tenant in his landholdings. These loopholes in turn resulted to more landowners to filing more petitions for exemptions before the DAR.
The agriculture sector contributes the least to economic growth, which takes away opportunities for the country’s “poorest majority,” who account for almost a third of the nation’s work force of almost 37 million.
Weak implementation also translates to fact that the agriculture sector contributes only around 11 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This indicates intense poverty that lingers throughout the sector where more people compete over very little production.
Poverty incidence in the nation is highest among fishermen with 41.4 percent, followed by farmers with 36.7 percent according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (2009).
With the CARPER still far from achieving its goals of distributing lands to its farmer-beneficiaries, the President is still pressing the Congress to pass a bill extending the June 30 deadline.
27 years after the Mendiola Massacre, 26 years after the passage of CARP, and 5 years after CARPER – the injustices still remains.
While a lot of words have been said, more farmers in the countryside await a piece of paper bearing their names bringing the recovery—or not—of a long, elusive struggle.
The challenge of CARPER is to remain true to its spirit, and finally bring genuine agrarian reform in the country.
Aquino’s final approval on the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) confirms his pro-landlord stance, and that he has no genuine interest in pursuing genuine land reform in favor of landless farmers.
Peasant groups Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK) condemned President Aquino for certifying the bill as urgent, insisting that the program did not lead to genuine land distribution and in fact, it increased the number of leasehold farmers nationwide.
Landless farmers mostly from Southern Tagalog island provinces say that they have been involved in CARP-related disputes in pushing for an end to the program.
KMP Chairman Rafael Mariano says that Aquino’s certification as urgent of House Bill (HB) 4296 is the landlord President’s belated attempt to push for the bill’s implementation for his fellow landlords in Congress.
HB 4296 looks to extend CARP for another two years by allowing the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to issue notices of coverage (NOC) up to June 30, 2016.
Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap though says that continuing CARP will be a “grand disservice and betrayal to landless Filipino farmers who are demanding for a new and genuine agrarian [reform],”
For the past 26 years, CARP allowed the concentration of vast areas of lands to big landowners and as a result, deprived millions of farmers of lands of their own to till.
“CARP as amended by CARPER law was a total failure in emancipating landless peasants from the bondage of the soil they till.” Hicap added.
It is apparent that CARP, along with other pro-foreign and pro-landlord policies upheld by the previous and current administrations has resulted to the continuing underdevelopment of local agriculture and impoverishment of farmers.
It also raises to question DAR’s motives for the anti-farmer policy, and if it does in fact, have a pro-landlord agenda.
DAR Secretary Gil Delos Reyes says that he supported CARP’s extension because it would be impossible to issue NOCs even on privately held lands.
It is well worth noting though that Delos Reyes is an appointee and ally of President Aquino, and the positive praises heard about him on the news generally come from Aquino’s supporters and cronies in government, media and academia.
The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) was designed to implement the redistribution of agricultural lands to farmers. Circumstances of peasant workers however show that CARP is only being used as a smokescreen for corruption and ‘agrarian pork’.
CARP is only true to newspapers, radio and television reports but does not happen in reality. In fact, this was revealed by the Department of Agrarian Reform Employees Association (DAREA) who are pushing for genuine land distribution along with different militant groups in the midst of attempts by big land lords to block its full implementation, particularly in Hacienda Luisita.
Hacienda Luisita has long been the unfortunate point of reference of how CARP has failed in ending the land monopoly of big landlords and foreign corporations in the country.
Three decades of CARP only allowed farm workers, in the case of Hacienda Luisita, to experience a wide range of deceit and terror at the hands of the Cojuangco-Aquino haciendero clan and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
Sting Tapia of the Agrarian Reform Program Office says that big landlords are blocking the distribution of lands to small farmers. Among them are former Land Transportation Office Chief Virginia Torres and Rep. Noel Villanueva, who is a former mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac.
Tapia disclosed that the scheme of the hacienderos is to make it appear as though the land beneficiaries have pawned their land titles for unknown reasons, hence letting them control a large portion of land. Farmers were forced to pawn or sell the lands that should have been their property due to poverty.
Last February, Catholic Bishops are calling for DAR Secretary Gil Delos Reyes’ ouster, saying that its implementation of land reform has been snail-paced.
Malacañang denied the allegation, and said that DAR records showed that land distribution was lowest only in 2009 when it gave away 59, 495 hectares. Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda also emphasized that De Los Reyes is an agrarian reform advocate.
However, it is impossible to believe that a supposed agrarian reform advocate would be in favor of a pro-landlord agrarian reform law such as CARPER.
It is therefore the height of hypocrisy that someone who claims himself an agrarian reform advocate would be an ally of President Aquino, who is in fact, the biggest landlord of them all.